FINDING NEMO | The Art of Storytelling

Has a film ever made you cry, gave you goosebumps or made so happy because something truly affected you. (Galaxy and tape close up)
HOW DO THEY DO THAT? (DESIRE)
To examine that invisible string that guides the audience to these emotional moments, we turn to the masterful work of PIXAR. (Lamp short)
(fast based beat)
Now you probably know their films
their characters,
For leading the way in animation
For their genius directors,
the brain trust
The way they talk about story (STORY montage)
But I want to share…..what Finding nemo has taught ME about Storytelling.

  1. The DESIRE and the CLIMAX. (Title Card)
The Desire and climax’s of every film are invisibly connected, to really appreciate a satisfying climatic scene, we must first explore the seeds planted in the stories Desire. (reverse)
‘I promise, happen to you’ (pause, noise and zoom screen into the point on the page behind that marks the desire on the story map timeline)
(diagram) out of his desire to never let anything happen to Nemo, comes his FLAW, Marlons genuine care turns into ‘over protectiveness, which is really an external manifestation of his internal insecurity.
which if we look a little further, we see that Marlons Life is controlled by his anxiety, so the road back to Nemo isn’t across the ocean its through the facing of his own fears.
This is the stories real jumping off point, anything before this moment serves the audience by helping us understand WHY Marlo has MADE and FULLY believes in this choice. Its this choice that is so rigid that it will take the length of the film for Marlon to grow.
…( visual transition to the climax)
To illustrate the level of grand design, its important to identify the many layers of story that peak and pay off in the climax to fully appreciate this moment.
  1. After Marlon finally finds nemo he’s is immediately forced to ‘let him go’ , this is physical action representing not being able to let go emotionally to his fear of the sea, before letting go of nemo he first had to develop the courage in himself first. its his CHOICE to trust his son’s ability, despite his own FEARS that really shows Marlon’s growth.
  2. This moment pays off what Gill and the tank fish taught Nemo, along with Gill developing Nemos self confidence and developing his self reliance through imitation, very joesph campbell like.
  3. Marlon also does this for the purpose of something greater than himself, saving his only FRIEND.
  4. We call back to the lucky fin
  5. Dory’s annoying phrase now has purpose!
-Authors notes:- there are many different roads to a succesful story but I agree with elia kazan, filmmaking legend in his book on directing when he says (unity to climax) all things must build to the climx. 
-Andrew stanton video (how the front end of the story sets up the back part)
-Mckee talked about taking things to the end of the line. So if Marlon is afraid of the sea what is the worst possible incarnation of that fear. whatever it is thats where the story must go, not just for dramatic reasons but to really force Marlon to grow.
  1. Know the crescendos
Think of the Turning points in each Act like mini climax’s, shorter goals or desires are built towards and paid off. Identifying the key land marking on the mapping out of a story helps see the big picture and shape of where the story is going.
I call this ‘know the crescendos’ as these tent poles are escalated towards and peaks several times before that films moment. Most films peak about here in terms of running time, but there a few exceptions like Rocky and Whiplash that try to peak the drama, the action and the story arcs into the final frames of the film!
The first crescendo is generally at the end of the first act:
In this case the second is half way through the film:
Another at the end of the 2nd act and the full speed to the climax.
  1. The Final Action
Ask this question of any film, ‘what is the action the character finally takes at the end of the film, that he wasn’t ready to take in the beginning’
In the case of Marlon he wasn’t ready emotionally to let go of Nemo for his first day of school, and because of his personally insecurity, nemo rebels.
So not only does Marlon need to face his own fears to get Nemo back, it was also the catalyst for loosing his son and setting the story in motion.
Marlon has a many tests and trials of letting go for his own character development to help him prepare for the ending of the film, when he is finally able to do what he needed to in the beginning.
  1. Dramatic Question.
What is the dramatic question? This is the question that is being asked in various forms in every scene of the film. In Finding Nemo the dramatic question could be ‘Will Marlon let go despite his own fear of the sea.’
Every scene is a play on this question. Notice how the things stopping Marlon aren’t just obstacles to physically but ever challenge is slowing digging away at this ability to overcome his own fear. (montage)
  1. External / Internal Goals.
Marlon’s External goal is simple. Find Nemo.
His internal goal is much more complex and his where all the character development takes place.
His internal goal, unknown to him, is what he NEEDS to do, not what he WANTS. he wants to keep nemo in bubble wrap forever, but what he needs, his internal goal is to ‘let go despite his own fear.’
So how do we get from FEAR to ACCEPTANCE, this is a huge character arc. Lets take a look at a few stepping stones of character development that Marlon must go through. (all of the interactions are great drama and comedy but are designed to help marlin’s mind along with the idea of change)
  1. Marlon must learn to rely on others and mix with the character of the ocean.
  2. Marlon must even trust others, this is not an easy step, he firstly chooses not to trust and sees how that works out, then he is rewarded for trusting the second time and allowed to progress on his journey.
  3. Marlon must witness other role models and potential fathering methods, broadening his perspective allows for growth.
  4. He must learn to let go physically to the unknown, even if he’s scare, uncertain and everything in him tells him not to.
  5. He must learn to risk his life for someone else, the only person to care for him, which is tested again in the climax.

These first 5 elements are more macro, covering the overall theme and direction of the narrative, lets not zoom into 1 specific scene and see how the design is crafted on a more micro level.
Satisfying the short term goal of the scene but also fitting into the bigger picture of the story.

  1. What is the POINT of the scene.
As one of the later obstacles for Marlon to overcome, the stakes have to be raised and the whale capturing provides a level desperation for Marlon that forces him to make a very difficult choice.
If we consider the dramatic question, will marling let go despite his own fear, this scene is a physical manifestation of that question. Marlon is put into a situation where he must CHOOSE, to be anger, re live his habitual behaviour or let go to the dark unknown and possible death.
This scene allows marlon a moment to catch himself in the act of saying something, this scene gives him a chance to reflect on his current behaviour and how that default response has resulted in the past.
  1. What do the characters WANT
On the macro level they want to react Sydney and save Nemo, but the short term goal of this scene is to escape. different methods are tried and panic sets in. Dori is her usually easy going self, but this allows as a reference point of calm as Marlon gets frustrated and also wants to prove she is wrong.
  1. where is the CONFLICT
They need to escape, but can’t
they are closer than ever, now stuck
not only the situation but each characters methods of dealing with the situation is completely different. this create conflict.
the conflict is raised when escaping is longer the main issue, when the conflict becomes more serious as a matter of potential life and death, this also add immediacy to the scene.
  1. How does the scene TURN
The scene changes many values over a short time. The scene starts out as FREE and then into TRAPPED.
the scene escalates to the values at stake being LIFE and DEATH, then Marlon is rewarded by his CHOICE of letting go and the whale actually rescues releases and head them on their journey.
  1. How does this ADVANCE the story
leading us into them being FREE again but now closer than ever proximity wise to nemo, so for our overall goal of finding nemo we have stepped closer and emotionally Marlon has experienced some positive reinforcement for making a choice in the face of fear, all supporting the change building in him for the climax and the end of the story.

France Ford corolla had a similar system of breaking down the godfather, in order to really identify what was important for the narrative and directorial choices.
Authors note: an incredible importnat acknowledgment that needs to be made here its that its infinity easier to break apart an intreically weaved story and clearly see the moving parts than it is to start with nothing, form ideas and nit them toegther to make something that works and has emotional impact. 
So if some of these steps overlap and seem simple, thats only because pixar have been able to tell a story with such clairty that it holds up under examination. 
 
 

 
 
Directorial choices (title card)
If all directorial and stylistic choice are made to support the narrative than it makes sense that understanding story is a huge advantage to any director.
Lets look at a few very subtle examples, but with a solid understand now of the story we can see how meaningful these director choices are.
  1.      We see two similar shots at the beginning and end of the film that when compared actually adds further meaning. firstly we see nemo doing the waking and Marlon being resistant, but this intention mirrored scene  demonstrated a new status quo with Marlon’s new outlook. These two shots are visually in conversation with each other.
  1.  In a similar fashion we see two shots of Nemo getting himself stuck. To really emphasis change Nemo is rescued the first time and then thinks of himself helpless when it happens again. Its only when Gill shows another way that Nemo’s character arc and self reliance begins to be explored.
‘never stopped me kid.’
Andrew Stanton at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 - March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Andrew Stanton at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 – March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson